Review: Bottom Almost Drops Out Of Riotous A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith ★★★☆☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 18 months ago
Review: Bottom Almost Drops Out Of Riotous A Midsummer Night's Dream A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith 3
Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Filter have made their reputation mainly for fresh takes on classic plays (especially innovative with sound) over the last dozen years. Lyric Hammersmith’s artistic director Sean Holmes has directed four of their shows, now reviving with co-director Stef O’Driscoll their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which premiered here in 2012.

Like their collaboration on Twelfth Night, this is a highly entertaining, accessible version which should probably have the prefix 'After Shakespeare's' as it both cuts and adds plenty of text, while staying true to the play’s anarchic spirit.

It begins in semi-improvised, stand-up style with Peter Quince at a microphone letting the audience know with his digressive prologue that this will not be conventional Shakespeare.

He tells a teenager in the front row of an audience full of set-text school parties that the copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream he has "will not be much fucking use", and this becomes a running joke in a show that repeatedly goes off piste.

When Ian McKellen, supposedly due to play Bottom, is stuck in a lift, director Quince apologises and prepares to cancel the performance, before being persuaded to use a plant in the audience as a stand-in — a nice metatheatrical joke on the Mechanicals' amateur dramatics.

Eventually the story of the play itself gets under way, as we follow the young lovers in their misadventures, though there is no attempt to present the formality of the court setting or the wildness of the wood — at least not in visual terms.

Hyemi Shin’s drab set features paper walls through which actors smash as they run amok while Titania’s bower is a rather seedy-looking tiled bath into which a thin waterfall splashes.

He tells a teenager in the front row that the copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream he has "will not be much fucking use".

An arched alcove houses a three-piece band as well as the sound equipment that is used liberally for special effects. The music and sound by Chris Branch and Tom Haines is an integral part of the show, for pastiche songs that the cast sing in a variety of styles from doo wop to grunge, and for evoking fairies buzzing around and psychedelic hallucinations.

There is much creative innovation in the staging. The 'love juice' that Puck randomly flings around is a blue liquid gel that has an instantaneous aphrodisiac effect, rather like a reverse version of the Lynx advert.

The fight between Lysander and Demetrius is played out like a video game with the noise of gunfire and explosions, with Puck manipulating a console. The abbreviated Mechanicals' performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is played out to us as their public audience, though not returning to court means that the sense of order restored after a night of misrule is lacking.

Jonathan Broadbent’s Oberon is far from an authoritarian figure, lycra-clad in a ridiculous caped superhero outfit, as he dangles from the flies or falls through the trap, while Cat Simmons’s Titania is an all-black-wearing vamp rather than an exotic queen of the fairies and Ferdy Roberts’s mischievous, lager-swilling Puck is the laziest you will see.

Clare Dunne’s Helena is more strident than pathetic, and John Lightbody’s sexed-up Lysander is a smooth operator. Andrew Buckley gives Bottom a matey, northern drollness, and as MC Quince Spymonkey’s Ed Gaughan ad-libs at a break-necked pace with consummate ease.

Overall, the dark, poetic side of the play is neglected in favour of sustained comic mayhem, including an all-out bun fight that involves the audience. Not for the purists, this inventive Dream is raucous fun without being over-subtle which will attract even those who thought they didn’t like the Bard.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is on at the Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King Street, W6, until 19 March. Tickets are £15–£35. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 03 March 2016